Costa Rica Day 1: Cerro Chato Hike & Baldi Hot Springs

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September 3rd, 2011                                                                                                                                                                                                    

La Fortuna / Arenal, Costa Rica

After 10 hours of traveling the day before – 5 on the flight from JFK to San Jose, 5 on the bus from San Jose to Arenal –  I had planned to laze in bed or hang out by the breakfast buffet for the better part of the morning. But the foot of an active volcano is no place to sit and relax. Before we knew it, a bright sun was streaming through the window of our room at the Arenal Observatory Lodge – it must have been about 5:30am? – and our stomachs were rumbling for adventure.

Arenal Volcano from our hotel – the closest you can get to an active volcano!
Gotta love complimentary breakfast!

After a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs with toast, hash browns, pancakes, fried plantains, Costa Rican cheese, and as much watermelon, papaya, pineapple and fresh blackberry juice I could possibly devour,  we set out to explore the surrounding forest. Butterflies and hummingbirds kept us company on the way, as thick, misty jungle meandered into meadows full of ruminant cows, a smoky-grey Arenal looming in the background.

Butterfly!
A lovely catarata, waterfall

Soon, we made it to the head of the Cerro Chato trail. Cerro Chato is a 3,740 ft-high dormant volcano next to Arenal. They told us there was a gorgeous blue-green lake at the crater that we simply had to see. The hike up was 4km – we thought we could get to the top, check out the lake, and be back at the Lodge in about 4 hours, before sundown.

That delusion was soon dispelled.

Half an hour into the hike, the “trail” disappeared, replaced by fallen tree trunks, giant boulders and thorn-filled bushes. Cerro Chato seemed to be saying to us, “So you two New Yorkers thought this was going to be easy? Ha!”

Bending, leaping, scrambling our way up the trail
The strangest plants we ever saw

I think I must have whined to Z a hundred times, “Let’s turn back, let’s turn backkkk, I can’t go on!” But the other part of me was grimly determined to see this expedition through – “Don’t be crazy, you can’t give up now!”

3 hours later, we made it to the top. I was grumpy, to say the least, but the sight of the lake and the yummy chicken sandwiches our nice waiter Michael had packed for us back at the Lodge made me feel a little better.

Cerro Chato Lake

There was still one thing, however – we had to get back down! “I have a bad feeling about this, Z,” I intoned as we were getting up to leave. “I’m telling you, going downhill on such a steep slope is no joke. I’m going to fall, trip, break something…” And just when I thought the situation could not get more difficult, a roar of thunder ripped through the sky. I looked at Z, aghast. “Noooo!” As the rain began to fall, Cerro Chato turned into a gigantic mudslide, taking rocks, twigs, creepy-crawlies and two ambitious hikers down the slope with it.

Another 3 hours later, we made it back to the Lodge – muddy, blistered, scratched, sopping, and giddy at the seemingly impossible feat we had accomplished.

A giddy Z, with Cerro Chato at the back
That poncho sure came in handy!

We were duly rewarded for our pains. Not only did we spend 2 hours soaking up in uber-relaxing thermal baths at Baldi Hot Springs (with an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner included!), we also saw a whole troop of Spider monkeys crossing the treetops from our hotel balcony. It was around sunset, so I assume they were making their way home (or going out to party?). They were some climbers, those monkeys, using not just their limbs but their tails to swing from branch to branch. One fellow attempting a super-vault didn’t quite make it, and went tumbling down the tree instead. But with those kind of limbs for support, I’m pretty sure he was OK!

Spider monkeys at our balcony!
Mom and baby!

With the day’s fatigue dissolved in the hot mineral waters of Baldi, I cannot tell you how well we slept that night. We have a saying in Urdu, ghoray haathi baich ke – roughly translated as the comatose kind of sleep you’d have if you sold elephants and horses for a living. Probably dates back to Mughal times…must have have been one tough job! :D

Next week, Day 2: Horseback ride to Monteverde and a Coffee Tour!……

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4 thoughts on “Costa Rica Day 1: Cerro Chato Hike & Baldi Hot Springs

    mefatima said:
    October 8, 2011 at 5:04 am

    i just got back from a vacation to turkey and england and yet i open your page everyday, eagerly awaiting for the next update! wow, you make me want to go off to costa rica RIGHT NOW.

    keep on writing because you are really good at it. and am sure you have many more readers than who care to comment.

    have fun!

    Zuhaib said:
    October 8, 2011 at 8:32 am

    hehe nice start to the tour…..waiting for the costa rican culture :)

    Renee said:
    October 8, 2011 at 11:28 am

    OMG – Beautiful photos – looks like a beautiful place to adventure and explore. Thanks for sharing.

    Amna K said:
    October 13, 2011 at 1:16 am

    This is so much fun to read! :D

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